Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in the gut and improve the overall health of the body, bringing benefits such as facilitating digestion and absorption of nutrients, therefore strengthening the immune system.
When the intestinal flora is in imbalance, which happens after the use of antibiotics or when you do not have a healthy and balanced diet, the intestine ends up being populated by bad bacteria that do not help the immune system and leave the body susceptible to diseases.
What are probiotics for
The main benefits of probiotics include:
- Fighting and preventing intestinal diseases like colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, Chron's disease and intestinal inflammation;
- Fighting diseases such as cancer, candidiasis, hemorrhoids and urinary tract infection.
- Improving digestion and fights heartburn;
- Fighting constipation and diarrhea by regulating intestinal transit;
- Increasing the absorption of nutrients such as vitamin B, calcium and iron;
- Strengthening the immune system by increasing the production of defense cells called macrophages;
- Prevents the proliferation of bad bacteria in the gut;
- Helps digest lactose, especially in people with lactose intolerance;
- Prevents problems like obesity, high cholesterol and hypertension;
- Prevents food allergies and intolerances.
A healthy intestinal flora rich in probiotics begins to form from birth, especially when the baby is born by normal delivery and when exclusively breastfed during early life.
How to take probiotics
There are two main ways of ingesting probiotics: the first is by increasing food intake with natural probiotics, such as yogurt or kefir, for example, and the other is by using probiotic supplements.
1. Probiotic foods
Some foods are high in natural probiotics. Some examples of these foods include:
- Natural yogurt: they are the main and easiest source of probiotics on the market, but there are also versions of flavored yogurts that keep beneficial bacteria alive;
- Kefir: is a fermented product with yeast and bacteria that looks similar to yogurt but has a higher content of probiotics.
- Fermented milk: these are special products that generally contain Lactobacillus added by the industry, with Yakult being the most famous;
- Kombucha: a fermented drink made mainly from black tea;
- Oriental products based on soybeans, vegetables and greens such as Miso, Natto, Kimchi, which can be purchased at specialty stores.
To maintain healthy flora, it is advised to consume at least 1 source of probiotic food a day, especially during and after the use of antibiotics, which end up destroying the healthy intestinal flora as well.
2. Probiotic Supplements
In addition to food, probiotics can also be consumed in the form of supplements in capsules, liquids or sachets, which must be diluted in water or natural juices before consuming. Some examples are PB8, Simfot, live Kefir and Saccharomyces Boulardii, and can be found in pharmacies and nutrition stores.
There are several types of supplements, which include between 1 to 10 different types of probiotics. The most important are usually:
- Bifidobacterium animalis: it helps to strengthen the immune system, besides helping with digestion and fighting against bacteria transmitted by contaminated food;
- Bifidobacterium bifidum: are present in the small and large intestine, helping in the digestion of dairy products;
- Bifidobacterium breve: they are present in the intestine and in the vaginal tract and they help to fight infections by bacteria and fungi;
- Bifidobacterium longum: is one of the most common types of probiotics in the gut and helps to eliminate toxins from the body;
- Lactobacillus acidophilus: is perhaps the most important type, because it helps in the absorption of various nutrients, in addition to fighting infections and facilitating digestion. L. acidophilus are also present in the vagina, helping to fight infections;
- Lactobacillus reuteri: are especially present in the mouth, stomach and small intestine, being important against H. pylori infection;
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus: they are present in the intestine and can help fight rapidly cases of diarrhea, especially when traveling to other countries;
- Lactobacillus fermentum: helps neutralize products and toxins released during digestion, improving the environment for the growth of the intestinal flora.
The greater the diversity of probiotics, as well as the number of bacteria within each pill, the better the supplement, as it will develop faster a healthy intestinal flora. Ideally probiotics should be ingested before or shortly after a meal, so that the foods help bacteria survive gastric acid and reach the intestine, where they can multiply more easily.
It is important to remember that consuming probiotics in the form of supplements or foods rich in these bacteria, but it is also important to maintain a healthy diet rich in fibers, as they are the main foods that allow probiotics to survive in the intestine.
Difference between Prebiotic and Probiotic
While probiotics are healthy bacteria that populate in the gut, prebiotics are fibers that serve as food for probiotics and that favor their survival and proliferation in the gut.
Some examples of natural prebiotics are oats, onions, garlic, green bananas, green banana biomass.